Sugar Queen moves to build excitement with return to St. Peter

Published 12:13 am Wednesday, June 13, 2018

(Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correctly list the contact information for potential contestants for this year’s pageant or past queens who would like to join in the festivities.) 

RESERVE — Sugar Queen pageant director Sue Cancienne remembers a Reserve community banded together by tradition.

In the heat of summer during the 1970s, children would participate in the summer play before turning their sights to Sugar Queen in August.

Middle school girls danced on stage in Sugar Teens and parents cooked potluck meals for the after-pageant ball. Cancienne walked to St. Peter’s as a child and imagined herself on stage with the Miss contestants.

Eventually she got her chance, winning the crown in 1983 before assuming the role of director in 1990.

Second runner up Brenda Granier, Suzanne Hatchet, Sugar Queen Evelyn Terry, Butch Waguespack and first runner-up Karen Willis stand together at the 1961 Sugar Queen pageant.

This year, the Sugar Queen pageant is going back to its roots, moving from its previous St. John Theatre location to St. Peter School in Reserve, a callback to the event’s 1948 start.

Gloria Haydel Vaughan snagged the first title. The first year included four or five contestants and progressed quickly. In the years since, Sugar Queen has expanded to a full production with themed enrertainment.

At 7 p.m. Aug. 4, Miss and Teen contestants will take the stage dressed for the theme “The Greatest Show: How Sweet it is.”

The pageant lineup includes an opening number with personal introductions, a Sugar Teens dance, an evening gown competition, visiting royalty from around the state and a highly anticipated Formal Connection tuxedo show.

The 70th anniversary takes a look back at past themes, reminiscing on the young women who took to the stage as superheroes, princesses and more.

One past theme, Southern Nights, saw a girl come on stage dressed as a mosquito as her personal interpretation of Louisiana culture. Each constestant has a chance to build public speaking skills in addressing the crowd and describing what the theme means to her.

Pageant winners are in large part determined by a preliminary interview conducted at with Port of South Louisiana’s guest house, which was once part of the historic Godchaux Sugar Refinery.

Cancienne said pageants don’t focus solely on glamour.

Sugar Queen coordinators, from left, Alison Hotard-Treas, Sue Cancienne and Maria Stelly sit with Sugar Queen winner Amy Rebaldo, who achieved the state title in 2002.

“The interview process gives you a confidence boost and helps you further down the road when you’re interviewing for that first or second job,” Cancienne said. “I truly believe it helped me.”

Marci Ayme, 1997 Sugar Queen state winner, said interview questions are judged by leaders in the business community.

Ayme, a high school educator, hopes to preserve the historical significance of Sugar Queen by crafting a greater appreciation for St. John Parish’s culture among local youth.

Growing up, Ayme knew the importance of the sugar industry to the region and the prominence of Sugar Queen to the local community. She believes students who partake in community service and efforts to revitalize Reserve would better understand what the pageant means to locals.

Ayme fondly remembers being awarded an unexpected Sugar State title in New Iberia. No one from St. John Parish had won state for two decades prior, and Ayme didn’t even bother packing a color coordinated outfit for a winner’s function to be held the next day.

Hearing her name called out was surreal, and she hardly realized what was happening until she saw the audience pointing at her as Cancienne jumped up and down excitedly.

In the 21 years since, Sugar Queen has seen success at state but far fewer participants locally.

Cancienne recalls directing more than 20 contestants at a time, with participation sometimes soaring as high as 40. Unfortunately, numbers have dwindled to an average of 3 to 4 Miss contestants in recent years due to scheduling.

“Doing it the third week in August was too late,” Cancienne said. “It falls the same weekend as dorm check-ins and sorority rush, and people weren’t participating. We hope moving it back to St. Peter’s for Aug. 4 will help.”

Cancienne said a Teen category was added four years ago to increase participation, expanding the age range to 14-22. According to Cancienne, Teen winners travel with the Miss Queen but aren’t eligible to compete at state.

Teen contestants must be between the ages of 14 and 17 for the Teen category and 18 and 22 for the Miss category, as well as live in St. John the Baptist Parish.

Potential contestants for this year’s Sugar Queen pageant or past queens who would like to join in the festivities may call Cancienne at 985-536-3967, Maria Stelly at 985-210-9153 or Baba Oncale at 504-415-3388.